Death and the Maiden: the Art of Mira Johanna Väänänen
Fashion and the macabre unite in the delicate ink drawings of Finnish artist Mira Johanna Väänänen. Lace gowns and ornate crowns adorn these lovely dames and femme fatales who all appear ready for the red carpet with Death on their arm. These nibbed pen and ink drawings combine bold silhouettes alongside hair-thin lines and pointillism, illustrating the decadent details of perfectly coiffed tresses, flower petals, snake scales, and dewy spider webs.
The relationship of her doll-eyed characters with death is a complex one. Sometimes they are seen cradling skulls lovingly or surrounded by a magic circle of vacant eyes; in other scenes, Death embraces them, and even appears to seduce them. The serpent is also a common character, entwined around slim bodies or curled around the heads of her enemies. While narratives vary between love, seduction, or perhaps a triumphant queen who didn’t falter to Death’s advances, every image is lush with symbols that tell their own unique tale.
The ornate attire and opulent allegories give a nod to the Art Nouveau movement. The stark color palette and use of heavy, dark shapes in some of her drawings are comparable to those of Aubrey Beardsley (though less pornographic). While Mira is predominately known for her black and white drawings, she occasionally experiments with gold ink and watercolors as well. Although her painterly work focuses more on shapes and loose brushwork, you can still find traces of her inky, melancholy black within the soft pastel palette.
“I drew for the first time with a dip pen at school art class when I was about 15 years old. We were given a dip pen and a bottle of ink, and we were told to draw something in the style of Mauri Kunnas, who is a famous Finnish children’s book author and illustrator. It just felt very easy and natural from the beginning. Later I saw artists like Aubrey Beardsley, Harry Clarke, and Alastair. They all have influenced my style ever since.”
Featured image via @mirajohannavaananen